THE NEW JERSEY SHORE -- When Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore in late October, the devastation was historic. Many of the fabled entertainment destinations that had provided summer respite and budget getaways for generations lay in ruins. Some of the shoreline region's best-known and loved boardwalks, beaches and attractions got hit hardest by the massive storm, leaving many to wonder if there would be a 2013 summer arcade season.
Now, with summer fast approaching, the state's seashore communities are remarkably bouncing back with heightened vigor. "Every day we're making more progress," said New Jersey Amusement Association president John Maurer, an arcade operator and principal of Coast To Coast Entertainment (Sayreville, NJ). "I'm optimistic. I think people will come out. People want to see what's changed, what's new, and what didn't change. They'll definitely see a new Jersey Shore -- in some cases, a better one. "
According to some New Jersey arcade and attraction operators, reconstruction is not only steady, but continues to pick up pace as work crews race to rebuild infrastructure in time for the big Memorial Day weekend that starts on May 25. Business re-openings are now a weekly event.
"The vast majority of shore businesses will be open by Memorial Day weekend," predicted NJAA executive Kimberle R. Samarelli. "And those that aren't will be opening throughout the summer. NJAA just held its annual trade show in late February and buying was at record highs ... people were upbeat. Local surveys say 70% of the people will return for their vacations this summer."
A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll estimated that roughly 64% of shore visitors are planning to spend the same length of time at the shore as they did last summer, 20% to stay less time and 13% to stay longer this year. However, that survey was conducted in January, prior to the rollout of any major promotions or updates on just how fast the rebuilding effort is progressing.
For instance, Jenkinson's Beach Boardwalk in Point Pleasant sustained severe damage, but has already managed to bring several of its attractions back on line. "We're moving along pretty well here," said Jenkinson's spokesperson Toby Wolf. "We've been open for nearly a month with the aquarium and sweetshop."
As of the first week of March, the Jenkinson's operation already had three of its four arcades open. "As devastating the storm was," Wolf said, "we're kind of looking at it as an opportunity to bring in new fresh attractions."
When tourists return to Jenkinson's South Beach arcades this summer, they'll find not only new facilities, but some never-before-seen attractions, including Triotech's XD Darkride, which is reportedly the world's first 7DI theater. "By Memorial Day weekend we will be open at full capacity, with the possible exception of the miniature golf course," Wolf reported.
Wolf told VT that the damage wreaked by Sandy could have been worse. When the storm landed, the sprawling amusement company had already begun winterizing the attractions for offseason. "Our maintenance staff for the amusement park did a phenomenal job," he said. "They did five weeks worth of work in two weeks, to get rides into storage before the storm. If this was an August storm, we could be talking about a very different picture here."
There were other bright spots, too. Jenkinson's aquarium, which houses and cares for 1,800 animals, made it through the storm without a single fatality.
PROMOTIONS TO COME
To spread the word about the Jersey Shore's impending comeback, a public-private initiative, called "Show Your Love for the Jersey Shore," has been launched. The effort, aimed at boosting tourism, includes heavy use of social media to broadcast news and information on the rebuilding effort, as well as special promotions.
This effort, say state officials is essential. Rebuilding from the economic downturn, the tourism industry in 2011 jumped an estimated 10% to bring in some $38 billion to the state, just below the all-time high of $39.5 billion reached in 2007.
Now it is just a matter of getting the word out and countering the demoralizing images of devastation inflicted on the Jersey Shore immediately following the storm. To complement the publicity, operators have reported aggressive promotions to draw tourists back "down the shore."
"Everything can't be done by summer," NJAA's John Maurer said. "But everything will be back to business. Game on!"